Hip-hop was barely a decade old when Run-DMC scored an unheard of triple-patty success with 1986′s Raising Hell. Run, D and Jay were the vanguard-selling millions of albums, appearing on TV, filming a movie, appearing on the cover of Rolling Stone.
Then they fell off. Hard.
Between Raising Hell and the release of Tougher Than Leather in spring ‘88, hip-hop shed an entire layer of skin. Lyrics got more complex. Production got more complex. Their success was matched by The Beastie Boys, and then by LL Cool J. BDP and Public Enemy and Rakim were bubbling under. Tougher sold well, but felt like it was a few steps behind. 1990′s gangsta-fied Back From Hell fared even worse. By 1992, hip-hop’s most celebrated group were has-beens. And they weren’t even thirty yet.
In a case of hip-hop taking care of their own, an all-star crew of MCs and producers jumped in to freshen the trio up for ‘93′s Down With The King. The production credits boasted contributions from A Tribe Called Quest, Jermaine Dupri, Naughty by Nature and Pete Rock, who backed away from his signature horn samples and emerged with a heavenly chorale of singers from the ‘60s Broadway show Hair for “Down With The King”’s title track.
Surrounded by those soaring voices and a neck-snapping drumbeat, Run and D sounded revitalized. “Down With The King” sounded up to date even while the guest verses by Pete & his rhyme partner C.L. Smooth referenced Run-DMC’s breakout hit “Sucker MCs”, by then a decade old. Add in a video that boasted cameos from Kris Kross, Eazy-E, KRS-ONE AND PM Dawn’s Prince Be (I wonder how that was arranged), and “Down With The King” hit the top of Billboard’s rap charts, landed in the top ten of the R&B charts, and became Run-DMC’s first top 40 pop hit in six years. It was also the trio’s last major hit in the U.S.. The rest of the King album didn’t live up to its title track’s standard, and by the time Crown Royal was released in the early 2000s, DMC had lost his voice due to a throat condition. He eventually got it back, but by the time that happened in full, Jam Master Jay had been murdered and Run-DMC effectively put on ice.
One interesting thing that often gets overlooked when discussing Run-DMC is that when “Down With The King” came out, they were repping for Jesus. The “King” is ostensibly God. Run had become Reverend Run (he still is) and DMC was (Deacon D). If you’ve not yet read DMC’s book 10 Ways To Not Commit Suicide, you really should. The wooden crosses the group wore during the King era were as much a marketing gambit cooked up by Russell Simmons as they were a declaration of faith.
Run has always given off those shady preacher vibes to me, and…let’s just say that the impression I have of him appears to be warranted.